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Hall schools' technology staff focus on A/V project
Adam Riley of Hall County School District’s technology department calibrates new screens inside the hallways of Early College @ Jones.

The technology department for Hall County schools is two-thirds of the way through with an $8.1 million project, has about 18,000 machines to maintain and added 9,000 Chromebooks to its arsenal during the past school year.

“We’re a big business,” Aaron Turpin, technology director for the county, said, pointing out the system has 32,000 customers between students and staff.

The department touches every part of the school system, including classroom instruction, storage of personnel records, the financial system, school nutrition and phone service.

About one-third of the schools have phone service on the internet.

Jay Smith, innovation architect, said it is easier to make a list of “what we do not run across our network” than to list all the areas in which technology works.

“We are just now dipping our toes into” having intercom systems throughout campuses as part of the district’s technology network, Smith said.

The department has a budget of about $6.5 million. That does not include the $4.2 million for instructional software.

The department will finish the second of three phases of the classroom audio/visual project after Christmas, Turpin said.

Turpin said the project includes putting wireless interactive projectors in 2,200 classrooms. The projector can be controlled with any one of multiple devices — a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Each room is budgeted for $3,700 in the project.

“The AV project’s sexy,” Turpin said, but he added the department is working on other projects that “no one knows what’s going on.”

He said the system’s firewalls will be updated.

“That’s huge. We can’t let the bad guys in,” he said.

In the midst of the daily work, Smith noted, “we get attacked” every day by hackers.

“The Fourth of July is terrible,” he said, “we always get it.” Attacks regularly come from Russia or China, Smith and Turpin said.
The tech folks are working on getting Wi-Fi accessible in all school hallways. That is being done using equipment taken from classrooms, which works because the space to be covered is more limited.

Before spring 2017, the system will have added enough machines for all students to take the Milestones and end-of-course tests online.

He also added the department is working on updating all athletic websites and plans to develop “a common presence for information for all of our teachers for all of our classrooms” within 12 months. Teacher websites now are used haphazardly.

The emphasis for computers has changed during his time as director, Turpin said. Computer labs were the emphasis about a decade ago. Computers were moved into the classroom; then laptops — a 10-unit cart for each room was a goal.

Now Chromebooks are the emphasis. The district hopes to get five years use out of those machines, he said. Some have been in use three years.

The school district paid for about half of those added last year. The others were bought through individual schools, booster groups, civic clubs and other groups.

The district’s network also makes the technology department more efficient. Work orders for problems to be repaired can be sent from any computer in the district, Turpin said.

Those orders go straight to technicians, who are assigned to a school cluster, a high school and its feeder schools. A software program called “SchoolDude” is used for that, Turpin said.

Previously, an order might go to a school’s lab manager and then to the tech department. It could take a couple of days to get to a technician, Turpin said.

Now, the repair is done in two days or less.

Though the work is wide-ranging, Turpin said, the goal remains simple — “make instruction work for the individual child.”